Release date: Oct. 13, 2023
By Robin Zimmerman
Kingfish at Blues on the Fox, 2023/ Photo: Dianne Bruce Dunklau
Christone “Kingfish” Ingram isn’t the first blues artist to come out of Clarksdale. This Mississippi town boasts a storied tradition dating back to the days when Robert Johnson allegedly sold his soul at the Crossroads of Highway 49 and 61.
Nonetheless, this 24-year-old phenom has certainly done his hometown proud with a long list of accolades and accomplishments including a Grammy win for his Alligator Records album 662. That’s the area code used in Clarksdale and Ingram has done much to honor his roots. In fact, he is scheduled to be featured on the upcoming October 29th segment of 60 Minutes that focuses on Clarksdale.
Ingram’s considerable creative talents were nurtured through his involvement with Clarksdale’s Delta Blues Museum school. Soon, word was getting around about this talented kid who played a mean blues guitar and wowed Michelle Obama when the school group played at the White House.
That might have been the first indication that “Kingfish” was destined for the world’s stage. A talent like his can’t be contained to one state, let alone the continental U.S. So, he’s been busy taking the blues to appreciative crowds the world over as one of the most incendiary live acts on the scene.
Luckily, for blues fans, the magic of Kingfish’s live performances has been captured on a double album that recently dropped on the Alligator label. It’s called “Kingfish, Live in London” and it was recorded during a sold-out show at The Garage on June 6th. While this release delivers the vibe of his always-inspired live performances, it also demonstrates how Ingram has continued to grow and develop as an artist.
As someone who caught a teenage “Kingfish” playing around town at Clarksdale’s Juke Joint Festival, it’s amazing to witness his maturation as a musician. Of course, he’s toured with the likes of the Rolling Stones, was mentored by Mr. Buddy Guy and has collaborated with a slew of industry heavyweights during his tenure with Alligator. But it is also so gratifying to see how Ingram has taken these valuable lessons to the next level. This hour and a half tour de force, from a crowded club in London, provides solid proof of it.
Take his first cut, “Call Me Kingfish” that was featured on 662, For this live version, he adds several new twists to this “kiss-off” song including a slow-paced intro that allows each band member to showcase their abilities. This demonstrates how Kingfish has matured as a bandleader and his crew of drummer Christopher Black, Paul Rogers on bass and keyboardist Deshawn “D Vibes” Alexander is incredibly tight, thanks in-part to touring together relentlessly.
The next track “Fresh Out” was originally recorded with Buddy Guy, but Ingram does the old master proud with his fresh take on this tune, which features Ingram’s incredible fretboards as well as keyboard artistry by Alexander. This is followed by a jazz-flavored rendition of “Another Life Goes By,” where Kingfish showcases his songwriting ability as well as impressive vocal range that conjures up memories of Lou Rawls at his peak of soulfulness.
Of course, it’s his guitar prowess that first brought Kingfish to prominence and Live in London provides plenty of opportunities for him to demonstrate his ever-evolving skills and style of play. During this live performance, he delves into a variety of musical genres besides the blues. Whether it’s a funky take on “Hard Times”, a slow-paced acoustic turn on “Been Here Before” or a full-on guitar-fueled jam that runs throughout his “Mississippi Nights,” Ingram pays homage to his many musical influences while adding his own brilliant stamp to each and every number.
Ingram has also come into his own on the lyrical front during his relatively short career. His collaborations with producer/songwriter Tom Hambridge have yielded songs that run the gamut from the biographical “662” and “Not Gonna Lie” to raising social awareness through the extremely powerful “Another Life Goes By.” Ingram also shines on his self-penned “Rock and Roll” homage to his late mother. While the topics are diverse, his lyrics contain the common thread of an “old soul” mentality and thoughtful observations.
For someone so young, Ingram is also incredibly prescient and well-versed on his blues history, with this theme apparent on tracks like “Something in the Dirt.” In a recent interview with Guitar World, Ingram said that “people watch a couple of Stevie Ray Vaughan videos and think all they need is distortion and fast licks.” He added, “you have to go back and appreciate why this music was made by our forefathers. You have to understand that this music was born out of pain and suffering. It wasn’t all about guitar solos or “my baby left me.”
It's also fitting that this was recorded in London as it represents a full-circle musical moment. This is the city that gave rise to the rebirth of blues in America through the “British Invasion” of blues-loving English musicians so it’s good to see Ingram coming into a place he loves and showing the folks how it’s done. And if this sold-out venue is like so many others, there’s a strong chance that he is bringing a younger, more diverse audience into his modern blues tent.
With “Live in London,” Ingram has laid further claim to being a torchbearer for his own brand of blues. It’s a masterful effort that shows why he is such a big draw everywhere from his hometown of Clarksdale to stages all over the world. It also serves to make longtime listeners as well as an expanding base of brand-new fans, eager to hear what new hooks “Kingfish” is cooking up for his next project.
About the Author: Blues enthusiast Robin Zimmerman, a.k.a. Rockin' Robin, writes a Blues Blog and is a regular contributor to Chicago Blues Guide
To buy the music, visit: https://www.alligator.com/